One of the biggest issues couples who come to therapy are experiencing is the inability to communicate effectively. Whether it be about kids, finances, in-laws, faith, or sex – if a couple is coming into counseling they almost always identify communication as one of the things they want to improve and a reason behind many of their problems.
Recently a couple I saw became increasingly frustrated with their lack of communication. The wife said to her spouse, “How can you not understand this, is your brain even working today?” Although she said this in a moment of frustration, she had a interesting point with regard to his brain. New research has found that there actually are subtle differences in the ways that women’s and men’s brains connect between and within the two hemispheres.
Below I have explained how these brain differences can affect a couple’s ability to communicate, as well as a helpful tip for positive communication despite their differences
1. Discussing multiple things at one time:
In the study conducted by the University of Pennsylvania, one of the findings of their research was the difference men and women’s brains had between being able to learn and excel at single focused tasks compared to tasks with multiple facets or that had to do with social cognition skills. They found that men were better at single task focused skills, whereas women excelled at focusing on multiple things at one time. This information may be why women are often able to multitask with more apparent ease than men, and why when trying to communicate with a husband or partner, women may bring up many issues in one conversation. Men’s brains excel through focusing on a straightforward focused problem. The real issue begins when this difference in how our brains process information begins to hinder a couples ability to successfully communicate.
Tip: When having a discussion that may get heated or emotional, focus on just one topic at a time. Although this may be frustrating to not talk about all that is on your mind, if one partner gets lost or confused during a discussion, important issues may be misunderstood or tension may escalate even more due to the confusion.
2. Emotionally focused vs. Logically focused:
In an article written by the Science Center at the University of California Berkley, a research study was referenced discussing the emotional differences between men and women. This research showed that women on average were better able to identify their own and other’s emotions, whereas for men it was more difficult. When a couple is struggling or not feeling connected, this difference in brain processing can further exacerbate the issue. Women may find it easier to explain to their partner how they are really feeling and when their partner does not seem to empathize with them or is not able to quickly identify what they are feeling and share back, it can isolate both partners.
Tip: Use “I statements” when having a heated or high emotion conversation with your partner. This is a sentence with the following structure “I feel _(emotion)_ when _(situation)_ because _(explanation)_. Using this structure when communicating helps decrease blame and increase taking responsibility for your own emotions and reactions.
3. Fixing vs. Understanding:
Men have a tendency to want to “fix” their partner’s problems. They are able to focus singularly on the problem and don’t have to understand the emotions behind the situation to offer a solution they believe will ease their partner’s worries. The problem arises when the partner does not want a solution, they just want to share their emotions. Instead of getting a release by complaining about co workers or crazy traffic on the way home, it may feel like getting lectured.
Tip: Ask for what you want out of a conversation! No matter how advanced our brains may be, we are not mind readers. Prefacing your conversation with your partner lets them know how you want them to respond. For example, if you just want to vent say “I just need to vent and get this out” or if you want help “I am really struggling with this and would like your perspective”.
Although there are differences in men and women’s brains, many of these differences are beautiful compliments to each other and can create a partnership that plays off each other’s strengths rather than preying on each other’s weaknesses. If you feel like you and your partner are stuck in the more negative side of communicating there are many more tips and tools to get you both back on the right brain wave, book your with appointment with this group of therapists I highly recommend today.